Sunday, July 17, 2011

War and Hate

Some people say they’ll never be able to forgive the Japanese for the atrocities inflicted on our parents and grandparents’ generations during the Japanese Occupation. I’ve read a few books describing the cruelty of the Japanese soldiers. I’ve also heard first-hand stories of untold suffering inflicted by the Japanese but I couldn’t understand why some people could not forgive and let go of the past.

Now I’m beginning to understand.

I have taken the forgive-and-forget stance because I honestly felt that Japan as a nation has suffered enough and, after the war, her people have gone out of their ways to be helpful and generous to the rest of the world.

But now I can see why it is difficult, probably impossible, to forgive and forget. When the Japanese have tortured your loved ones, subjected them to physical cruelties, mental torture, humiliation and degradation in ways you can’t even begin to imagine, I guess to expect the victims and their families to forgive is asking way too much.

The book I’m reading describes the horrors inflicted on both the innocent and ‘guilty’, people who had the misfortune to cross paths with the Japanese during the latter’s occupation of Sabah. It made no difference to the Japanese whether their victims were men or women; the elderly or children; natives or foreigners; soldiers or civilians.

I don’t want to give the hell-on-earth details here. One has to read the book to see what horrendous experiences the victims had to endure until death took away their miseries. And the sad thing is, the kicking, beating, hitting, slapping, head-hammering, the breaking of bones, chopping of fingers, jumping on distended abdomens, shooting, beheading and acts of cannibalism, etc were not even necessary as, in most cases, the victims complied with what was demanded or asked of them.

So why did the Japanese soldiers do what they did? Because they were following orders? Because having conquered a big portion of mainland Asia and the surrounding islands they were 'drunk' with power? Because they were acting like a mob? Because they felt invincible? Or because cruelty is inherent to their culture?

A few years ago I watched a National Geographic documentary showing some former Japanese soldiers being interviewed and asked about the roles they had played in the Sandakan-Ranau Death March. One of them described how he shot a POW who couldn’t continue walking (due to exhaustion, illnesses and malnutrition.) You’d expect him to relate that with a sense of regret and sorrow, not with a hearty laugh and the ear-to-ear smile he gave the interviewer. Yet, another soldier was able to show his ‘compassion’ when he told how he shot a little child to end his misery because he was calling for his mama who had jumped into their well to escape being raped by his fellow soldiers.

Bushido—the warrior’s code—which the Japanese soldier live by, makes it the soldier’s sacred duty to fight for, and if necessary, die for his emperor. According to this code, the soldier never surrenders to the enemy. To surrender—in the eyes of the Japanese—is to be reduced to an insignificant, contemptible being not even worthy of fair and humane treatment. That is why they practise seppuku—honourable death by cutting across the abdomen-- rather than fall into the hands of the enemies.

It is interesting to note that although a signatory, Japan did not adhere to the Geneva Convention 1929 which, among other things, spells out how POWs are to be treated.

Of interest also is the fact that although the Japanese emperor had surrendered on 15 August 1945, the slaughter and degradation continued far beyond that date, so determined were the Japanese soldiers that not a single POW lived to tell the tales of their horrific experiences.

Blood Brothers is not just a book about POW victims and suffering. It is also about a host of unsung local heroes (and heroines) who risked their lives to alleviate the pain and hunger, if not save the life, of a fellow human being.

While my admiration for the POWs and local people (not all) have gone up by several notches, I’m afraid the opposite is true for the Japanese soldiers. And I don’t think I can ever forgive and forget if I had been a victim. Read the book and you’ll understand.

There are only losers in a war. Both the victor and the vanquished have to count their dead, add up their losses and lick their wounds before they could continue with their lives.

Let me end with a quote from Three Came Home which Agnes Keith wrote so others could ‘shudder with me at the horror of war’. She, too, had suffered Japanese brutality.

“The story of war is always the story of hate; it makes no difference with whom one fights. The hate destroys you spiritually as the fighting destroys you bodily.”

Note: The hand (Google Images) holds some of the metal buckles, clips and a single button the POWs buried under a tree in Ranau (shortly before they died) so people would know they had been there.


  1. I will check out the books in my local bookshops. Thanks for the information.

  2. My Uncle died of torture in Hong Kong. His body could not be found.

  3. Who is this Lynette? Is she a Sabahan? I'm curious.

  4. Hi STC! Sorry to hear about your uncle. Hoping you'll find the book in Miri.

    Justin, Lynette is an Australian investigative writer. She has written another book about the the Australian and British POWs: Sandakan--A Conspiracy of Silence. I haven't read it yet.
    BTW I remember you writing about your grandfather leaving Sandakan for KP during the Jap occupation. The move probably saved his life!

  5. Every elderly folk I know in my place talks about the Japanese occupation as the time of suffering. But I could never really understand the extent of the suffering. Would like to read this book.

  6. Verone, I've read a handful of book including Agnes Keith's which is also very sad. But Lynette's book made it more real for me. It felt like she took me by the hand and told me 'see, this was what it was like'. You know about the march and how it ended but when the few soldiers escaped, you cheer for them until... And you hope each local person you encounter is a good guy until he turns out to be a spy. Yes, read the book.